Naturists Campaigning for Naturism

Tender(ing) Protest

If everything runs to schedule then this will be published on the NAG website just about the same time as the 2nd Clacton WNBR event takes place and an edited version will also be appearing in H&E Naturist.

First, for those who don’t know, a little bit of background information on the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR), courtesy of Wikipedia. (You can read the entire entry if you wish, but I’ll continue with a shortened version.) The first ride was in 2004, in Vancouver, British Columbia and organised by South African-born resident Conrad Schmitt. Schmitt had conceived of the WNBR after organising another naked bike protest in the city for Artists for Peace/Artists against War (AFP/AAW) in 2003. Unaware of each other, AFP/AAW and Manifestación Ciclonudista of Spain were organizing similar events with almost identical messages, and collaboration between the two groups led to the creation of the World Naked Bike Ride. In 2004 it was a protest against oil dependency and a celebration of the power, and individuality of the human body. By 2006, the message had shifted, simplifying it to the advocacy of cycling, and cycling issues. The participants’ nudity represented the vulnerability and dangers faced by cyclists on the roads today. The golden rule regarding WNBR’s dress code has always been “as bare as you dare” with full or partial nudity encouraged, but it has never been mandatory. Even so, this has led to the participation of many naturists, as organisers and riders, but the WNBR has never overtly advocated social nudity.

In its early years in the UK, the WNBR was virtually ignored by British Naturism because they, quite rightly, did not see it as a naturist event and I think (and I’m happy to be corrected) that it was Duncan Heenan and I who were the first participants of the London WNBR while holding office as Treasurer and Vice-Chairman respectively. I should emphasise, that there is not now and never has been a link between British Naturism and the British organisers of the World Naked Bike Ride.

In 2004 there were 24 WNBR events in 10 countries on four continents. By 2010 there were 74 rides in 17 countries. For some, like London, the police forces have stopped escorting the ride, leaving it to the rides to organise their own marshals to guide the protest through the streets. But not all police forces are so enlightened, not even in the United Kingdom.

On 6th June 2014, Tendring District Council (TDC) and Essex Police published a joint press release asking the organisers of the town’s leg of the WNBR to reconsider their decision to proceed with the event despite their earlier ‘strong request’ not to. Councillor Mick Page, leader of Tendring DC said: “The reaction last time [in 2013] from the community has led us to oppose the ride this year on their behalf and that stance is fully backed by the Police, who… had the unenviable job of escorting the riders.

“There was one particular incident which gave both the council and Police very serious concern and we do not want any repeat of that type of behaviour,’ added Cllr Page. The press release failed to explain what that ‘particular incident’ was.

For their part, Clacton’s Policing District Commander, Chief Inspector Cat Barrie said Essex Police had worked very closely with Tendring DC to produce an appropriate response to the planned ride.

Cllr Page is just continuing the line established by his predecessor as leader, Cllr Peter Halliday. In 2013, the naked bike ride had been preceded by a sponsored skinny dip in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care and it was thought a naked fun run was also being planned for later in the year, which actually never happened. Cllr Halliday had taken exception to these events, or the threat of them, believing that it was spoiling Clacton’s image as a family seaside resort (EADT, 26/07/2013).

Anyway, as a result of Tendring District Council’s actions, the Clacton WNBR lead organiser, Robert Brown, told the East Anglian Daily Times (10/06/2014) that they will not be put off by threats and intimidation, and they planned to go ahead with the ride, although it had been brought forward by one week from its original date of 26 July.

Now that we are all on the same page with this story, let us look at the claims and counter-claims made in it.

In its original statement Tendring DC said it and the police officers escorting the riders in 2013 had received a number of complaints, which led them to believe the townspeople did not want the ride to go ahead. An article in the East Anglian Daily Times (10/06/2014) gave that number as more than 20. We are therefore talking about less than 30 (otherwise the journalist would have said if it was more than 30, etc.) and even allowing it to be 29 complaints this amounts to just 0.05 per cent of the Clacton’s population of 64,000 people (according to TDC’s own document: Tendring Life: A Breath of Fresh Air. Clacton Seafront: A New Future 2012-2016). With such a minuscule section of the community making their opinion known the politicians are stretching the truth beyond creditability to say that they are talking on behalf of Clacton’s townspeople. What they are actually trying to show that they stick up for the town and are worthy of the residents’ vote in the next election, by being economical with the truth.

Another of the claims made in the press release published by Tendring DC is that the ride had been billed as “a peaceful environmental protest” but Cllr Page said that as there was no evidence of banners or messages in support of the environment, and it actually appeared to be a promotional event for naturism. The evidence cited is inconclusive, for as any science student knows, you cannot prove a negative. A lack of banners and signs telling onlookers what the riders were protesting about would simply appear as a bunch of cyclists riding around the town centre, naked. This does not then lead to the conclusion that the cyclists were promoting naturism because, again, the evidence does not show that.

As cynical that I am about politician, the lead organiser for WNBR Clacton, Robert Brown, is not above making statements that could not be substantiated either. In an article for East Anglia Daily Times (10/06/2014) Brown claimed that the ride brought: “business to the town.” How does he know? Could he add any figures to this statement? The council disputed the claim in the same article. Making unsubstantiated claims like that of Brown’s only undermines the cause you trying to promote, or in this case, defend.

Rather than bandy half-truths and out-and-out lies with the council via the press, it would have been much better to address the issues raised by TDC and Essex Police, and let their actions do the talking.

Yet, there is an issue here that is purely of naturist interest and it stems from Cllr Page’s assertion that the WBNR last year was to promote naturism rather than in defence of the environment. The document, Tendring Life, referred to above is about the regeneration of the seafronts at Clacton and Holland-on-Sea and put the case that both towns offered potential to re-invent themselves as seaside resorts for the 21st century. Quoting Tendring Life, tourism in the district contributed £276 million to Tendring’s economy and provided employment for 13 per cent of its residents. But unsurprisingly, nowhere in the document does it mention naturism as part of this regeneration plan. According to the Internet forum Essex Naturists, a river beach at St Osyth, about five miles inland from Clacton, is the only official naturist beach in the county. Surely it cannot be beyond our wits to devise a survey to find out if: (a) the people of Clacton know about it; (b) if they cared about the beach being used by naturists or social nudity in general, and; (c) if the users of the beach contributed to the local economy by using Clacton’s hotels, bars and restaurants and with an estimation of how much they were spending? Then we can tell the council exactly how their own town thinks and how we help it thrive.

Do that, and maybe the council will have a different attitude towards naturism and stop them spouting rubbish as they politic. It may even change their mind about the WBNR?

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